Clownfish and climate change

Will they sink or will they swim

Yesterday I read a news article that explained that climate change might not be bad news for everyone. A recent study showed that Clownfish seemed to thrive in warmer water. Great news right? Climate change might wipe out a huge number of animal and plant species, but at least the Clownfish is safe. Unfortunately, there´s a little more to it.

Clownfish

The research

Let´s start with the research itself. It was done at the University of Technology in Sydney. In the study the researchers kept three groups of Clownfish in three different environments. The first group lived in water that had the same temperature as their normal ecosystem. The second group lived in water 1,5°C warmer than normal and the last lived at 3°C warmer than normal. After a year, the fish kept at warmer temperatures had grown larger and heavier. They had increased their aerobic metabolism and adapted to the higher temperatures. All in all they seemed healthier than the Clownfish kept at normal temperatures.

There are a few problems with this research. As also noted by the researchers themselves, by the way. The research only looks at how the Clownfish cope with higher temperatures. In the real world there might be other factors that will harm the Clownfish. Also, the research did not look at how the fish reproduced at higher temperatures. But, indeed, it might just all work out great for the Clownfish. This is not the first time research showed positive effects for certain species. And in a way, we humans have environmental changes to thank for our very existence.

The problem with climate change and clownfish

Ok, let´s back up for a second, before we start hailing climate change as a great thing (which it is not). Clownfish are also called Anemonefish. This is because Clownfish tend to have a symbiotic relationship with Anemones. This means Clownfish live in reefs and shallow lagoons. Both of these ecosystems are vulnerable to climate change. A change in temperature could harm this ecosystem. If it does, it is not unlikely that Anemone and Clownfish numbers will also drop.

It´s easy to look at a single piece of research and draw your conclusions from it. But in the case of something as big as climate change, this almost never pans out. There are so many variables to climate change. This makes it impossible to predict what will happen to any animal without looking at the bigger picture. In this case, one piece of research showed that warmer water seems to equal bigger clownfish. This does not mean clownfish will thrive during climate change. It just means that they can withstand one of the problems they will face. And living in some of the most fragile ecosystems on the planet means they will face many problems.

Photo of the clownfish by Joe Mabel

Published on: 2015, august 07
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